My Dad: 1926-2020 – A tribute

Dad and mum, with grand daughter Hannah and three great grand children, 2016.

I recently lost my Dad, Derreck Parkes. At 93, he was worn out and faded away peacefully on 28 January this year. Since it was clear his life was drawing to a close towards the end of last year, I prepared for his loss, at least to some extent. Losing my Dad has caused me to reflect on his qualities as a human being, and his impact on my sister and me as a father.

What’s important here is not the year he was born, 1926, or that he died in January this year; these are mere markers of a life well-lived. No, what matters is what his life contained in that little dash between the two dates. If you are a bit nerdy, like me, you might be interested to know that he lived for 34,068 days.

As a devotee of the “Full English” breakfast, he got through a lot of bacon, quite a few sausages and eggs, and a few punnets of mushrooms, and a pallet or two of butter beans; sadly I can’t give you an exact number since there are no records, I would have liked to, but I’m sure you understand.

After breakfast, there was a life to live. That life started in Nottingham on the 20th October 1926. It was a cold, cloudy and dank day; October was unusually cold that year. The General Strike of 1926 had left the Nottinghamshire miners with a bitter taste in their mouths. Dad often spoke about the General Strike, but his earliest memory is of a trip to London with his aunt Mable to see his Uncle Billy. Dad thought this was 1930.

Later, during the war, Dad was in a reserved occupation. From 1941, he served his apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, Derby in the Merlin experimental department as part of a team that was trying to squeeze more power out of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Dad was proud of the fact that they achieved a power increase from 1,000 horsepower in 1941 to 2,200 horsepower towards the end of 1944. Later, in 1961 he became an author with Rolls-Royce writing the overhaul and repair manuals for jet engine servicing. He finished his career in 1989 writing for the RB211 the first commercially produced three spool by-pass jet engine. I remember feeling very proud of my Dad’s contribution to the RB211 engine on a demonstration fly-by of the Lockheed TriStar around Derby in 1972.

The greatest crime committed against my Dad, Derreck, was that he remains to this day the unacknowledged author of the Rolls-Royce publication The Jet Engine. In keeping with his character, he bore no bitterness.

He met my Mum, Dorothy, in Paris in 1948, an adventurous excursion at that time. She admired his suede shoes; he loved her hair. Mum said “ I’ll have him”, my Dad, ever the one with a handy chat up line  said, “Have you got a day off school?” They quickly discovered that they only lived about 3 miles from each other. One thing led to another, and they married in October 1952.

On the day that Dad went to buy the rings, with Mum, he diverted into an engineering workshop in Nottingham and bought piston rings for his dismantled motorbike. My Mum never quite forgave him, for putting piston rings on the same level as an engagement ring. But to Dad, they were both just as functional and to be useful both need to be kept well oiled. Despite early ring trouble, their marriage was to last 67 years. I was going to tell you that their marriage lasted 25,573 days, but I decided not to include it because I thought you wouldn’t be interested.

As a Dad, he took me to my first Forest match on 13 February 1965. At the City Ground, we went in the poplar stand and paid half a crown to watch Forest play Stoke. Sir Stanley Matthews was at the end of his career, aged 52, he turned a reasonable performance. Forest ran out 3-1 winners that day, but more importantly, I became bitten by the life-long disease of following the Tricky Trees. I am still thus afflicted, remaining ever hopeful of better days.

Football was always a regular talking point between us. Indeed, while in the hospital during dad’s final days, he had been unconscious for some days, or was he sleeping? I found it hard to tell, but he suddenly came to and asked me what it was with Forest losing 4-0 to Sheffield Wednesday at the City Ground. How he remembered this fact in a coma, I’ll never know, but the pain of defeat must have been foremost in his mind.

His mark on my life is indelible, and I shall be forever grateful for all the experiences we shared and the values he imparted to me. I shall miss him; no, I already miss him, but I am confident that his faith in Christ has reserved him a place in the realms of heaven.

Quietly, the unseen hand of God was at work, softening his crust and improving his understanding so that he could embrace the love of God. At what point he came to faith, I don’t know, but I can say that his faith was real and secure. As he lay dying in the hospital, I asked him if he felt the presence of God, and although mostly unconscious, he grunted an acknowledgement.

Only a few days before he died, I reassured him that everything was taken care of at home and that all was in place for Mum; I then said to him, “Dad, it is OK to let go of life if you want”. He finally let go at 10:00 am on Tuesday 28 January this year.

In the final analysis, we can say Dad matured and mellowed through life just like a good wine, and that he finished well. For this and so much more I will be eternally grateful, and in writing this tribute, I hope that it will speak to a future generation of the positive influence that a father can have on his family.

As I finish, I would like to propose that his epitaph should read:

“Derreck Parkes, a man of integrity who loved people and invested in them”.

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Creative imagination

Sometimes I encounter a situation that I do not know how to resolve. At the beginning of 2020, like every year for the last twenty years, I write my goals for the next twelve months. Since retirement, this discipline is even more important to me because I have entered a new chapter of life.

Each new year brings with it a challenge to review my financial situation, and I usually prune back some of my discretionary spending. I have already cut back a newspaper and a magazine subscription, and several small fry items from my budget.

One of my larger financial threats in 2020, is that I have a drop in income because of the expiry of an income protection insurance policy one year ahead of becoming eligible for my State Pension. How am I to bridge the income gap?

To help solve this problem and others, I have found using visualisation an essential ingredient in finding a solution. I begin by sitting quietly and listening to what my inner life is saying to me. Of course, as a Christ-follower, I believe that the Holy Spirit plays an important part in the revelation of what I see and hear. Although I do not want my blog to be a vehicle for an explicit expression of my faith, my faith is an indispensable part of who I am.

By sitting quietly, in a relaxed position and eyes closed, I can scan my life and permit the non-judgemental comment of my inner self to rise to the surface. When a self-comment or a new image emerges, I try to capture the dancing butterfly. Sometimes I will write down what I see or hear, other times, the strength of the impression is sufficiently robust for me to hold that thought.

The next phase of using my imagination is to ask ‘Is this feasible?’, ‘Is it sustainable?’ and ‘Is it wise?’ these foundational questions help me sort through the ideas to check if they have a valid connection with my real world.

As I have sought to develop my creative imagination, I have learned that I am bigger on the inside than I am on the outside. My inner world is my private Tardis, unappealing from the outside, vast and exciting on the inside; with places to go.

Recently, when listening to Anton Lesser reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘Brief Answers to Big Questions’, I drew inspiration to consider the importance of creative imagination. In general, the book is a wonderful exposition of his ideas and a demonstration of Hawking’s creative imagination.

Developing our creative imagination aids us to free ourselves from the constraints of set thinking and to imagine a different future. Our static thinking so often limits our horizons and sets us on a course to narrow and predictable outcomes from which we cannot discover new possibilities.

When Einstein presented his theories during the first part of the 20th century, his mind lived his theories first, in his creative imagination. Take, for example, one of his first thought experiments. Einstein imagined what it would be like if he sat on the leading edge of a beam of light. In visualising the experience, he was able to see some of the strange properties of light, speed and time. This experiment caused him to think deeply about the nature of our world.

Einstein first visualised in his mind an experience that was not possible to see from within his knowledge of life so far. By doing so, his thought experiments took him outside of his limitations and into new possibilities. Then he worked on the mathematics to prove his theories or modify them, using the thought experiments to give a dramatised window on his spark of insight.

In thought experiments, we can first test whether what we see is capable of being a window on the here and now. Einstein’s thought experiments are not a device to dumb down explanations to less gifted mortals; rather, they are an essential central ingredient of his discoveries.

So, by developing our creative imagination, we can free ourselves from aspects of our life when we are stuck, bored or need to move forward. They may be used to overcome a problem or puzzle, as Schrodinger famously did with his cat, or to visit another world to see new possibilities, as Einstein and Hawking did.

We don’t have to be a famous scientist to use thought experiments. Our creative imagination will open new doors, and those new doors will lead us into new rooms. In new rooms, we will see previously unimagined possibilities, or solutions to our puzzles and unlock a way forward to a different outlook. Once we see fresh possibilities, we will also see our world differently, and the insights we gain will propel us to explore situations that we have not previously seen.

By using our creative imagination, we can live in a different reality in our minds, and this provides us with a means of experiencing something new for ourselves or others. Seeing a new future or new opportunities through a creative imagination energises us into becoming bigger people. And, becoming a bigger person starts on the inside.

7 Questions to help develop our creative imagination

  1. Do I think ahead?
  2. Can I visualise my life beyond its present reality?
  3. Do I use visualisation to shape my goals?
  4. Do I look for new and creative ways to solve problems?
  5. Am I able to appreciate the views of others?
  6. Can I still myself and listen to what my inner voice is saying?
  7. Can I catch the butterflies of thought that flutter across my mind?

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The Mystery of Sleep

Sleeping man with infant

Falling asleep is one of my great joys. It starts with the readiness for rest, usually lying down and closing my eyes to permit myself to slip from this reality and into another. As I do, I soon begin to silently move from the awareness of my surroundings. Without any effort on my part, I find that I am drifting into another world.

In this in-between state, I am gradually separated from my immediate thoughts and concerns. As I separate from usual reality, I enter into a different kind of world.

I embrace the arrival of the misty dream world of sleep. I’m in a peaceful state and move effortlessly into the unknown world of sleep. The change from the conscious and awake to sleep and the unconscious is calm, gradual and gentle where one gives way as the other laps in.

I can’t write about what happens next in a linear or conscious way since I am not there, at least not there as I am when awake. Somehow I have transitioned from one sort of reality to another kind of reality. But I also know that some features of this different world are truly amazing.

Science tells us that our bodies and minds are active during sleep. We know that our body repairs itself and our brains are busy organising such areas as memory. Toxins are removed, tissues repaired, memories made sense of and that some memories are transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. Our breathing and heart rates slow. Our temperature changes through the night. The depth of our sleep can be measured by brain activity.

Time does not pass in the same way as it does when we are fully conscious. Take, for example, when we wake – we are not aware of the minutes or hours that we have slept. Sometimes, I wake sufficiently in the night and take a glance at my bedside clock. If I wake again later, I readily believe that I have dozed only for a minute or two, only to discover that two hours have passed since my last peep. My ability to gauge time is unreliable and does not work well when I am asleep. I can measure time internally when awake but not when I am asleep or if I hover between the two states.

As I begin to wake, it is as if I’m rising out of a submerged state. In the depths of sleep, my conscious world is suspended. Even time passes without measure and any sense of watching the clock of reality is lost. Time no has power over me as it does in my conscious day. But as I wake and draw closer to my wakeful state, my internal periscope is raised, and I begin to check in with my self and my surroundings. It’s a new day. I want to know where I am, the time, light through the curtains or a glance at the clock all to confirm my safe arrival to a new day. But how did I get there?

A good night’s sleep successfully punctuates my existence in the physical world. We accept this world as our ordinary human reality. But at times, I wonder whether this is quite the right perspective. If sleep is a temporary state punctuating my physical world, could it just as rightly be said that my physical experience is brief punctuation of my otherness?

On its own, this thought is intriguing. If sleep is part of a larger other reality, then it is possible to see sleep as the gateway to my otherness, an existence in another state. It is at this point we are aware that something quite beautiful has happened. If our sleep has progressed without interruption, we will wake refreshed and at peace in readiness for a new day. In this sense, our visit to our other reality punctuates the rhythms of daily life and is essential to our good health.

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